Turkish delegation pressures France on Armenia genocide bill
Turkish lawmakers and businessmen were in Paris on Tuesday in a bid to head off a diplomatic crisis as the French parliament prepared to vote in a law making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide.
The French parliament is to debate the bill, which would see anyone in France who publicly denies the genocide facing a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000), on Thursday and is expected to approve it.
"If this law is adopted, there will be a lot of damage and consequences for the two countries," warned Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, who was leading a delegation of Turkish businessmen to Paris.
Members of the delegation, who were to meet with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and President Nicolas Sarkozy's foreign policy advisor Jean-David Levitte, said they believed the law was an attempt to win support among voters of Armenian origin ahead of next year's elections.
France has a large population of Armenian-descent and they are seen as an important element of Sarkozy's support base as he prepares for a tough re-election battle in April next year.
"Every five years this question comes up ahead of the elections," said Umit Boyner, chairwoman of the Turkish Industry and Business Association.
Turkey is an important economic partner for France with about 12 billion euros in trade between the two countries in 2010.
Turkey has urged France to block the bill, or face "serious and irreparable" consequences for Franco-Turkish relations.
A Turkish government source told AFP on Tuesday that it would impose diplomatic and trade sanctions against Paris if French lawmakers adopted the law.
"Turkey will not remain silent. That will obviously have consequences," the source said. "We have already discussed our plans if the bill is adopted at the French National Assembly on Thursday."
Among the sanctions, Turkey will recall its ambassador to Paris for consultations and ask the French ambassador in Ankara to leave, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ankara is also planning trade sanctions targeting French interests in the country, though the government has so far avoided openly using the term of "boycott" against French products.
Close to 1,000 French companies in Turkey, as well as those in partnership with Turkish companies, will be excluded from public contracts, especially in the field of transport, according to the source.
Armenia says up to 1.5 million of its people were killed during World War I by forces belonging to Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.
Turkey rejects the term genocide and says between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died in combat or from starvation when Armenians rose up and sided with invading Russian forces.
Most historians agree that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in a series of massacres and deportations from Asia Minor in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1916.
France recognised the killings as genocide in 2001.
© 2011 AFP